The Stockyards


Slaughterhouse Jobs

Less than ideal working conditions, such as blood-soaked floors, were common in slaughterhouses, 1892. (CHS ICHi 29764)

The working conditions for the thousands employed at the Union Stock Yards were abhorrent. Laborers on the killing floors had to work amidst the stench and piercing shrieks of animals being slaughtered while standing on blood-soaked floors. They worked long hours-usually ten to twelve a day-in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in the summertime. Stockyard employers could keep wages low and withhold benefits due to the ready supply of immigrant workers desperate to earn a living.

Meat cleaver used by skilled butchers, 1920. (CHS ICHi-29808)

Most jobs required little skill; only the butchers with their highly specialized cutting techniques were considered skilled workers. Workers could learn quickly the one-step assembly line tasks, making the stockyards an attractive prospect to those immigrants who arrived without work skills or spoke limited English. Irish and German immigrants were among the first ethnic groups to seek stockyard employment in the late nineteenth century. Bohemians, Poles, Slavs, other Eastern European immigrants, and, later, African Americans and Mexicans added to the culturally diverse workforce. The packinghouses also employed women as packagers and children as messengers, paying them a fraction of the amount adult male workers earned.


Women generally worked as packagers in meatpacking plants.

(CHS ICHi-21351)



Al Capone
Black Sox
Century of Progress
Chicago Fire
World's Columbian Expo
Parades, Protests and Politics
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The Stockyards
The Stockyards Photos
The Stockyards bibliography
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